Río y Respiro is a multimedia work that pays homage to the Río Grande de Loíza, one of the most emblematic bodies of water in Puerto Rico, situated in the northern coast of the island.
Through a performance action, ephemeral installation, and production of a homonymous documentary video, the artist Dhara Rivera proposes a conversation about the current state of the bodies of water that flow across the island but that have been historically mistreated, ignored, or made invisible.
Carried out in several phases between 2011–2012, Río y Respiro was created in collaboration with a group of students from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico (School of Plastic Arts and Design of Puerto Rico, San Juan), members of the Asociación de Pescadores de Canóvanas (Canóvanas Fishermen's Association), and several friends and colleagues.
The first phase of the project included a period of site visits and study of the characteristics and attributes of the Río Grande de Loíza. During the second phase, the artist, together with students from EAPD, collected oral histories related to the experiences of the residents of the towns bordering the river, as well as people who used to fish in its banks. Fragments of all kinds of stories—personal memories, inherited, lived, beautiful, terrifying, imagined—were transcribed into pieces of cotton cloth. These testimonies, which together accounted for the multiplicity of voices that give life to the river, were subsequently inserted into 150 carefully crafted hand-blown glass spheres and laid out over an extensive bamboo structure.
During the closing event of Río y Respiro, the multiple histories collected during the two-year project were narrated out loud and shared with the audience by the shore, while a drum beat symbolically marked the rhythm of the offering to the body of water. Over the course of six hours, the glass blown spheres were tugged by a fishing boat that sailed six miles to the mouth of the river and back to the starting point. A sound box placed in the boat reproduced a composition designed for the event throughout the journey .
As the image of a backbone floating like a breath of life on the Río Grande de Loíza emerged, a powerful reflection on the community and its memory was also generated, and its link with nature was revitalized.
Students from Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico:
Ulrik López Medel
Members of Asociación de Pescadores de Canóvanas
Captains: Don Mario Betancourt and Luis Díaz
Camera and editing: David Moscoso
Sound composition and live percussion: Daniel Ausbury
Live narration: Rubén Solla
Thanks to: Oficina de Apoyo a las Artes del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP)
All the images were taken during the Río y Respiro closing ceremony event that took place in December 2012 at the Loíza River in Loíza, Puerto Rico.